Growing squashes for Autumn

Knucklehead pumpkin growing in September

Knucklehead pumpkin

This year I was given a selection of squashes to grow by Marshalls Seeds, and whilst I’m still trying to find a way to use up all the courgettes, the other cucurbits are also romping away. The happiest of all is my Knucklehead Pumpkin plant, which has now grown to about 7 or 8 metres long and is producing two large fruits. Well, that’s two fruits that I can see as the vine has scrambled its way across the scrubby area by the compost bins. There could be more lurking.

The knucklehead pumpkin is yet to start going orange or knobbly… but I’m hoping that by mid to late October we’ll have a lovely pumpkin to harvest for pies, soup and all sorts of autumnal foodie treats.

Munchkin pumpkins

Munchkin pumpkins growing up the arch

And on the arch – my biggest, bestest bargain of this year – nestling amongst the flowering Spanish Flag, my munchkin pumpkins from Sarah Raven are also starting to fruit. Although it’s fairly late in the year for the vines to be producing flowers, I’m hopeful that they’ve got a lot of growing left in them and we’ll have more than just a small handful of the impossibly cute and pretty mini pumpkins for harvesting this year. I’ve counted about ten flowers and buds so it’s a game of wait and see… not sure the persistent damp conditions and lack of warm autumn sunshine will help my cause though…

Funnily enough, the sunniest side of the arch has been swamped by the Spanish Flag climbing vines, so the munchkin pumpkin plants have struggled to compete. On the less sunny side that faces to the east, the munchkin pumpkins are thriving. Something to bear in mind next year as I’ll most definitely be going for a Spanish Flag-munchkin pumpkin combo again. It’s been my little crowning glory this year.

Arch with scrambling Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata) and climbing Munchkin pumpkins

Arch with scrambling Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata) and Munchkin pumpkins

Autumn Days When the Grass is Jewelled

When I was in lower school, every Wednesday we had ‘Singing Assembly’. By far my favourite song to sing was a catchy tune called ‘Autumn Days’ by Estelle White. The lyrics go like this:

Autumn days, when the grass is jewelled
And the silk inside a chestnut shell
Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled
All these things I love so well

So I mustn’t forget
No, I mustn’t forget
To say a great big thank you
I mustn’t forget.

Clouds that look like familiar faces
And a winter’s moon with frosted rings
Smell of bacon as I fasten up my laces
And the song the milkman sings.

So I mustn’t forget
No, I mustn’t forget
To say a great big thank you
I mustn’t forget.

Whipped-up spray that is rainbow-scattered
And a swallow curving in the sky
Shoes so comfy though they’re worn out and they’re battered
And the taste of apple pie.

So I mustn’t forget
No, I mustn’t forget
To say a great big thank you
I mustn’t forget.

Scent of gardens when the rain’s been falling
And a minnow darting down a stream
Picked-up engine that’s been stuttering and stalling
And a win for my home team.

So I mustn’t forget
No, I mustn’t forget
To say a great big thank you
I mustn’t forget.

It really takes me back to the Autumn days of my childhood – you know, when the fallen leaves were so deep that you had to wade through them up to your knees, you had to start wearing your knitted fairisle or arran jumpers in the early mornings and evenings, and thanks to a bumper crop of apples, apple crumble or stewed apples were the dessert of choice for Sunday lunch.

It’s been a funny year, weatherwise. I suppose in many ways we’ve had a ‘normal’ year, in that we’ve had a long, cold winter, a beautiful spring, a hot summer, and for the most part a very wet August. My recollections of my childhood summers are tinged with reds and oranges – sunshine, long warm evenings, burnt grass, as well as (I imagine) the eye-wateringly bright neons that defined children’s fashion of the late 80s. Throughout my teens in the 90s, I seem to recall that a great deal of the summers I experienced in the UK were slightly dull, grey and wet. But now it seems so strange that it’s been so… well, almost normal?

The thing I really love about living in England is the fact that I get to experience all the seasons. There’s something refreshing and invigorating moving through each part of the annual cycle. Although it’s a slow, constant change, there’s so much familiarity there too. I know what I have to look forward to, what I need to prepare for, and when it comes I’m so very ready for it.

And I’m definitely ready for Autumn. Despite the persistent rains of August, I’m over the long, hot days of summer. It’s like a ‘Back to School’ feeling. I’m ready for the slight evening chills, the colour changes and most of all, the abundance of Autumn. You see, food-wise, Autumn is categorically my favourite time of year. I might be the fussiest vegetarian in existence, but I’m a great lover of seasonal Autumn food – root vegetables, squashes, preserves, jams and chutneys, brassicas, herbs, beans, peppers and crusty fresh bread with everything. I think that the inherent prehistoric cavewoman still residing within me knows it’s a busy time to collect, store and prepare for the long winter months ahead, and there’s something I really like about that. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s a comforting, calming feeling.

This year I also know that financially, it’s going to be a tough few months ahead too. So I’m already planning ahead and thinking about how I can frugally line my cupboards, navigate my way through the festive season, whilst preparing for the next growing season. I need to pull down all my preserving books, look through my recipe books and think – how can I make the best of what Autumn offers?

So as I find them, I think I’m going to put up some of my favourite Autumn comfort food recipes. Let’s face it, there’s not left in my Smallest Smallholding veg plots to use – a few squashes, some runner beans, damsons and plums (I’m hoping next year I’ll have my first sloes to pick from the blackthorn bushes), and the remnants of this year’s raspberry crop. But the thing with growing your own – and something I’m still learning about – is that you’re always looking and planning ahead, and I always find that a very exciting prospect.

An explosion of August-ness

I have to say, summer is not my favourite time of year. Yes, there’s colour and sunshine and spectacular thunderstorms, but somehow it’s all a bit green and mad. I think, what it comes down to, is that in summer, I feel grumpy that I can’t be outside when I want to (for now, work, and I’m rubbish in the heat), and, more to the point, it’s at this time of year that I feel everything has completely overtaken me and I just can’t keep up.

The Smallest Smallholding in August is a riot. Bindweed, thistles, rampant brambles (which are currently producing big fat juicy crops of berries, so they’re not ALL bad), grass, grass and more grass are all growing, exploding or tangling around my years. Weeds have taken over the borders, the veg plots are doing well but looking nothing short of chaotic, and I just tend to close my eyes and pretend it’s not happening.

Of course I love the busy-ness of the bees hard at work, ladybirds beetling around, the haphazard blurs as butterflies follow an erratic flight path from buddleia to buddleia. Blackbirds hopping across the fence, hidden finches tinkling in the trees and rotund woodpigeons ambling around the lawn.

But the simple fact is that at this time of year, I feel like I can’t cope with this much space. Not with work. Actually,  not even when I was freelancing. I haven’t found a way to make it work when I’m so pressed for time, and with less inclination than I’ve had in the past.

To be honest, it just makes me feel more and more like I’m slipping away from my quest for the Good Life. I find myself thinking, ‘if I really wanted it, I’d be working harder’. Of course, I love the idea of it, but in practice, am I made for it? Can I really do it? I don’t know.

I’ve decided to hand over the responsibility of the allotment to Mum. I just don’t have the time to be down there, and feeling responsible for it all the time (even though it was always our allotment) has left me feeling like I’ve got this medium-sized albatross hanging around my neck. It was different when I took it on; I was freelancing, the recession wasn’t really here so work was fairly abundant and I didn’t know that little over a year later I’d be back in full-time work.

I just wonder how I’ll feel in a few months’ time when the evenings draw in, and I wake in the dark and make my homeward-bound journey in the dark too. I wonder how much I’ll be craving sitting outside with the countless fat bumble bees, butterflies, wishing I was weeding away. I’ll have forgotten about pesky wasps, annoying flies and headaches from being too hot, being woken up at stupid o’clock because that’s just when sunrise is, and the relentless screaming of overexcited children during the summer holidays.

What I’m really looking forward to is Autumn. I think Autumn is my favourite season; when you get that very, very slight chill on the air, but the sun is still fairly warm and golden in the evenings. My favourite curcubits and root vegetables come into season in Autumn, it’s when I can revel in glorious soups and stews, stodgy crumbles and custard. Then there’s the frosty mornings, the riot of colour as the leaves turn, collecting firewood in anticipation of evenings spent infront of a crackling fire. The feeling that the rush and business of summer is over, and that it’s time to sit back and relax a little, and join the birds and mice in foraging, and stuffing your face in preparation for winter.